J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 The Hobbit is simply as much fun as any fantasy adventure can be and, along with its ‘sequel’ The Lord of the Rings, is one of the genre’s modern cornerstones. Filled with warm, light-hearted imagination and tropes that have since become standard—trolls, wizards, elves, dwarves, and the like, the book is a delight for the young and the old, all brought to life with the author’s classic storytelling voice.
The Hobbit is the story of Bilbo Baggins and his quest to recover the treasure of Lonely Mountain. Though smaller (and fuzzier) in stature than the thirteen dwarves he goes adventuring with, Mr. Baggins proves himself useful time and again escaping goblins, thwarting giant spiders, riling up dragons, and brokering peace among the various humans, elves, trolls, and otherwise the band meet along the way. It doesn't hurt that he finds a most peculiar ring along the way. This is all most peculiar because, such adventures are the last thing on Bilbo’s to-do list at the beginning of the book.
Hobbits like traditional folk of the British countryside, any mention of taking a break from tea-drinking or pipe-smoking can get one of the little people uptight and quarrelsome. Quests for treasure are simply unheard of in the Shire—the bucolic land where hobbits live—yet off Bilbo goes for reasons he only partially understands, to dangers unknown. But following the lead of Gandalf the Wizard and Thorin the dwarf, he learns a thing or two about the world in the process.
Bilbo also learns a lot about himself. There and Back Again the book’s subtitle, the story is as much a developmental experience for the young hobbit as it as a pure adventure. Facing perils of the most imaginative variety time and again—a riddle contest, a dwarf’s overblown pride, being trapped in a pine tree with wargs below, and a dragon smoldering in his lair—Bilbo discovers his confidence and wits are as valuable as the treasure promised to be awaiting at Lonely Mountain.
Faults: simply there are none. Tokien writes like the grandfather sitting in a rocking chair beside the fireplace. With a twinkle forever gleaming in his eye, Tolkien’s narrative voice relates the tale in classic storytelling style. From a structure viewpoint, the novel is likewise consistent and compelling. All the stages of Bilbo’s journey follow one upon the next, naturally, climaxing in an appropriately sublime conclusion that keeps matters at a character level, that is, rather than giving in to temptation and branching out into full-blown epic proportions.
In the end, The Hobbit is among the best the fantasy genre has to offer. Enjoyable for the young and old, Tolkien’s tale is worth all the hype—if imagination and storytelling are your bag. For those wondering whether The Lord of the Rings is worth the effort, The Hobbit, along with providing valuable back story, is an excellent litmus test. Though certainly more YA in style, the subtle use of magic, the creatures, the map spanning quest, and the simple joy of traveling in a fantasy land are all there, giving the reader a good indication whether the sequel is worth the time. Perhaps easier to list derivative rather than similar works, The Hobbit is, suffice to say, something special.